Seasonal Shelter Working With City To Add More Beds
Organizers of a seasonal homeless shelter hope they won’t have to turn away as many people who seek their services in the coming weeks and months as they did last year.
Known as HARTS, the Harrisonburg and Rockingham Thermal Shelter is a nonprofit organization that pools resources with local religious organizations and other groups to provide shelter during the coldest months.
HARTS takes in people who, for one reason or another, can’t get into another homeless shelter. The coalition that runs it includes local churches, a temple and a mosque.
For the past four years, HARTS has provided shelter for up to 22 homeless people per night at various locations in the central Valley that rotate every week.
But last winter, as many as 41 people sought refuge from the season’s unusually bitter cold, said Brooke Rodgers, the organization’s executive director.
HARTS is working with Harrisonburg building inspectors with the hopes of getting approval for up to 40 beds when it opens for the season Nov. 14 at Otterbein United Methodist Church in downtown.
To be able to do that, the organization decided to pare down the number of locations to only the largest facilities, officials say, and it must get approval to increase capacity.
“First of all, it will be based on what we would consider to be the safety of the people in the facility,” city building official Wayne Lilly said. “Having a facility for sleeping is entirely different than having a facility for any other purpose.”
Lilly said he would inspect the first two churches in the rotation today and may decide next week how many beds they can safely have.
“Our intent here is to try to increase those numbers if we can,” he said, adding that it may be less than HARTS officials would like but still more than 22.
One element that goes into determining a safe limit is a document called a life-safety plan.
“It’s a common component of a building code permit application,” Lilly said. “It’s a look at how do you get people out of the building safely [in an emergency].”
Fortunately for HARTS, nine groups of local architects came together to develop those plans, saving the organization about $4,500, said Sarah Morton, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors.
That kind of community support is crucial for the organization, which has an annual budget of about $98,000 and relies heavily on volunteers from area congregations, Rodgers said.
HARTS is always seeking both monetary donations and volunteers, she added.
“[The budget is] going to have to grow significantly. The budget isn’t growing as fast as the problem,” Rodgers said. “I would say that we’re being strained in terms of operating the organization and having an extremely small budget.”
by JEREMY HUNT, Daily News-Record